Five to 10 times a day, an electrical worker is severely injured or killed in an electrical arc-flash accident in the United States. Other electrical accidents also occur regularly. Typically, many of these injuries and deaths involve accidental contact with energized parts that result in shock and electrocution. Injuries and fatalities from these accidents are always devastating to the worker and his or her family, and the financial consequences can be very damaging to the employer and its insurers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is applying new standards to help protect workers from electrical injuries. NFPA 70E 2004 Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace is the fundamental “how to” document for electrical safety that OSHA cites for the latest revision of this standard.

The NFPA 70E standards apply to any facility that has electrical equipment that operates at 50V or greater and is likely to require maintenance, adjustment or servicing while energized. This encompasses almost every customer that an electrical distributor sells to, including electrical contractors.

Obviously, the most basic requirement of safe electrical work is to turn off all power to the equipment before having any contact with energized parts. This process, known as Lock Out / Tag Out, creates an electrically safe condition, so anyone can work on the equipment safely. Only very specific exceptions to this policy are recognized and accepted in the safety standards. The new standards go well beyond basic lock-out/tag-out safety.

An Opportunity to Serve Your Customer's Needs

The new safety standards are not very well understood by most electrical distributors' customers. Customers are actively seeking reliable sources of information and suppliers who can help them meet their compliance needs and provide a thorough understanding of hazard mitigation and retrofit products to solve their problems.

Several steps must be taken to satisfy the compliance requirements to meet these safety standards. They are:

  • Establish a written electrical safety program with defined responsibilities.

  • Conduct an electrical system analysis to determine the potential hazard at each piece of electrical equipment in the system.

  • Provide comprehensive training for all electrical workers on the hazards, including arc flash, arc blast, shock and electrocution.

  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) clothing for all workers who may be exposed to electrical hazards.

  • Provide tools for safe work. These are specialized electrical tools, such as insulated voltage-rated hand tools, electrical testing devices that are safe to use, etc.

  • Apply warning labels on all electrical equipment to warn qualified persons of potential electrical hazards.

Several other best practices are strongly recommended, such as:

  • Appoint an electrical safety program manager if one does not already exit in the company.

  • Maintain electrical equipment on a regular basis. Maintenance criteria and intervals are listed in NFPA 70B Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance 2006 Edition. Note that regular maintenance for electrical equipment becomes a requirement in the NFOA 70E 2008 edition.

  • Maintain and update electrical system documentation. Documentation such as the facility electrical single-line diagram, short-circuit and coordination studies and arc-flash hazard analysis need to be kept current to provide a safe working environment for employees.

An Opportunity to Differentiate Your Company

Electrical distributors should continuously be looking for ways to improve service to their customers to gain a competitive advantage that makes the difference when their customers make buying decisions. Since these relatively new standards are not well understood by most customers, an opportunity exists to serve as the compliance expert and educate your customers on the standards. Many of the standards' requirements can be provided by your suppliers. Some manufacturers provide training for qualified persons, arc-flash hazard analysis, labeling of equipment, maintenance of electrical equipment and updates of facility documentation. They can also recommend suppliers for those compliance items that are not directly addressed in their offering, such as PPE, electrical safety programs and tools. Manufacturers may also provide seminars to educate customers on the standards, as well as contributing many technical articles on the topic that are published in major trade publications. Other suppliers may provide comparable. All are designed to support distributor efforts.

See for Yourself

Call one of your larger customers, and ask to speak to the person responsible for safety. Ask that person what they are doing about compliance with the new arc-flash electrical safety standard NFPA 70E. Most customers are aware and are seeking help with compliance. It might as well be your company and not your competitor providing the answers.

Joseph Weigel is a veteran of over 30 years in the electrical industry in the United States and in China. He currently works for Square D Services in Nashville Tenn., as product manager for the company's arc flash awareness program. He is a member of the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.).

Weigel has had extensive experience leading the Square D Services program to help to develop the NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, and to increase awareness of these new evolving NFPA standards and OSHA requirements that affect Square D customers. He has written and published over 50 articles in electrical industry publications on strategies to mitigate arcing faults in electrical distribution equipment, and has lectured extensively in North America to increase awareness for these new safety standards and requirements.